The first time I visited Kauai was back in 2016. @ScottyReichard and I fell in love with photos of Waimea Canyon and knew we had to go there. The views were just as beautiful in person! We drove around most of the island, crossing hikes and viewpoints off our list. Aside from not hiking the Kalalau Trail, I thought I had seen it all after our trip.
Fast forward to 2018, and I packed my Gregory Packs Jade 53, hopped on a plane and took off for Kauai a second time. I’m not one to revisit a place, but I am starting to realize that there is something to be said about going to a spot with a fresh perspective. I’m coming back from this trip with many more memories and check marks on my bucket list than I thought I would have!
Where To Stay
Being the adventure island that Kauai is, there are camp spots available. This blog here lists some camp spots you can try out. As you begin your camping research, I recommend staying away from the Salt Ponds, Anini and Anahola. While I realize that these are favorite campgrounds, the reviews I found online were outdated. Some of these campgrounds have a high amount of trash on them. Salt Ponds, primarily, was a homeless community. That doesn’t serve as a complete turn-off, but there are not many reviews that mention this, and I think it is worth knowing beforehand. Here is another blog that lists out beach camping. I have been to Polihale before. It's a great place to visit as well even if you're not looking to camp! Most beaches have public showers you can use too, especially if you don’t like "dirt bagging" it that much. Having a bag like a Gregory Packs Jade 53 made it easy for me to pack some camping gear for the trip, too!
If you’re looking to splurge, I recommend booking a room at the Hyatt. The Hyatt team was kind enough to comp my stay there this time, and it exceeded all of my expectations! My party and I received leis upon arrival as well as fresh pineapple. The hotel is on Shipwreck Beach which features a beautiful coastal trail too.
What To Do
There is so much to do! There are also adventures on the island that I probably don't know. Here are my recommendations for five days on Kauai based on my recent and past trips.
Sunset in Waimea
After arriving on the island, head to the nearest Big Save or Walmart for snacks then make your way to Waimea. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, go to Aloha Aina Juice Café for an Acai or Pitaya bowl! Drive all the way to the tip-top of the canyon and hit Kalepa Ridge Trail for sunset. You’ll see the most epic ridge views. If you're in the mood, drive down to the Waimea campground for the night. Note that you will have to get permits beforehand. You can also try local hotels like the West Inn.
Hike in Waimea
After waking up from an epic sunset mission, go on over to Waipo’o Falls via Canyon Trail. The trail will take you up close and personal with one of the largest waterfalls in Waimea Canyon. You’ll also see more of Waimea’s colorful canyon walls, which will leave you speechless. Below is a list of recommended hikes here:
AWAAWAPUHI TRAIL - 6.2 mi
WAIPO’O FALLS via CANYON TRAIL - 30-40 min
KALEPA RIDGE - 1hr
Head East + North
In the morning, you can hit up Kuilau Ridge trail for an easy hike to ridge views. I couldn’t believe how green it was here! If you’re feeling adventurous after this hike, you can find the trail that takes you to Opeakaa Falls (about a 30min long). If you like kayaking, however, I recommend renting a kayak and hitting the Wailua River to get to Secret Falls. You can also book a Secret Falls tour if you want some guidance. Below is a list of destinations in this area:
OPEAKAA FALLS - Viewpoint
MAKALEHA FALLS - 3hrs
SLEEPING GIANT HIKE - 3 hrs
KUILAU RIDGE TRAIL - 2mi
After exploring some of the East, make your way up North. Stop in Kapaa for food! There is a Kauai Juice Co location here that I recommend trying if you’ve never been. I will admit that $12 for milk is pricey, but it’s worth buying their products at least once! You can also go to Java Kai for coffee and good eats.
Now it’s time to head to Queen’s Bath. This trail is almost always super muddy, so wear shoes you don’t care to get dirty. It’s around a 20min hike and isn’t hard. If the swell is low, you can go swimming in the pool too. Check the water conditions before you go! While you’re there, you can also visit Turtle Cave. Flooding on the North Shore has changed the shape of the cave. You can still visit it, but it will look different. If you would like to contribute monetary donations to North Shore flood relief, check out this link here. Below are the hikes I mention on the North Shore:
QUEEN’S BATH - 20min
TURTLE CAVE - 15min
My last day on the island was all about relaxing. I didn’t do much but beach bum, which is fine by me. Most flights leaving the island take off around 8pm to 10pm. You might have a ton of time to kill on your last day here! While the South Shore is more touristy than the others, you’ll at least have the chance to chill at some beaches while you’re here! For food, head on over to Da Crack. You can also get some good Thai food at Thai Street Food Truck. Below are destinations you can check out before your flight!
MAHAULEPU TRAIL – 4mi
You’ve probably noticed by now that nowhere in this blog do I make mention of the Kalalau Trail. This trail is one of the most beautiful backpacking destinations you’ll probably see in your life, and it’s still on my list! The recent flooding in May 2018 has resulted in a closure of the trail and other parts of the North Shore. The closures today does not mean that the listed North Shore areas will be closed in months to come. The best thing you can do if you’re looking to hike the trail and visit more of the North Shore soon, do research in the coming months! Again, here is a link you can use to make donations to flood relief.
Thank you for reading! Be sure to comment down below and let me know what part of the island you would hit first! All photos were edited using my Lightroom presets. You can get the desktop version here. If you don’t have a subscription to Lightroom, you can get the mobile version here- no desktop required!
Special thanks to Gregory Packs for creating gear that perfectly compliments adventures! You can check out their packs here.
Dani is the Founder of Mountain Chicks and the primary author of the Mtn Chicks Blog. Here you'll find outdoor tips, travel experiences, gear reviews and more.